It is altogether fitting that The Ryder made its debut on April 1, 1979. The Ryder publishes with puck and pluck. It's a smart little magazine of arts and letters that never takes itself too seriously; and therefore rarely let it's readers down.
Instead, writers and readers both are encouraged to take some time with a thoughtful bit of cultural criticism, an informed and accessible theater review, or a tentative personal narrative—the sort that makes us laugh that embarrassed laugh that comes from a disturbing note of self-recognition.
From its humble beginnings, The Ryder has become a Bloomington institution. Known by locals and visitors alike for the city's comprehensive monthly arts & entertainment guide, The Ryder doesn't concern itself with outmoded notions of cultural elitism or ersatz populism for that matter. (Like our so-called "public service" broadcasters do). Instead The Ryder takes it all in, the campus production of Puccini's La Boheme as well as the Marx Brothers double-bill playing down at the Cinemat.
Like our own little New Yorker, right here in Bloomington, The Ryder not only appreciates but nurtures good writing. That is to say, like any self-respecting arts magazine, The Ryder welcomes ambivalence, appreciates the bemused observation, and favors the quietly introspective. It is also quite funny. Along with a gaggle of gifted writers and editors who have lent their time and talent to The Ryder over the years, The Ryder also has an eye for graphic design. Not a few of Bloomington's most creative and expressive graphic artists have contributed to the pages of The Ryder.
Then there's The Ryder Film Series. For the cinephile in all of us, The Ryder Film Series is a godsend. O.K. so I won't be the first one in line at the Lincoln Center Cinema to see Claude Chabrol's latest film. But in six months, time, it will be playing for two weeks on the IU campus or in the back of Bear's Place, thanks to the good people at The Ryder.
And for those who haven't heard the good news, beginning this Memorial Day weekend, The Ryder will run a month-long film series at the Buskirk-Chumley Theater! With community support of this experimental run, perhaps Ryder films will become a regular feature at the historic Buskirk-Chumley and downtown Bloomington can be free of the tyranny of the Kerasotes corporation's restrictions on local film culture.
Much has been made of the explosion of independently produced, politically oriented documentaries vying for the public's attention this past election year. What usually gets left out of this story is the role that local groups played in the distribution and exhibition of these films. Across the country, grassroots organizers took it upon themselves to get these important films screened in their communities. Here in Bloomington, Reel Democracy led the effort to use these films as a vehicle to promote political engagement and encourage civic dialogue.
To be sure, there was no shortage of high quality films produced on a range of timely topics: the 2000 election debacle, the Iraq war, the Bush Administration's contempt for the rule of law abroad and civil liberties at home, and the crisis of contemporary journalism.
And while Michael Moore's contribution to this spate of political documentaries, Fahrenheit 911, enjoyed wide national release, other equally engaging films, such as the Media Education Foundation's Hijacking Catastrophe: 911, Fear & the Selling of American Empire, and John Pilger's Breaking the Silence: Truth and Lies in the War on Terror were definitely not playing at the local cineplex. Reel Democracy organized public screenings of these less well-known but equally relevant films at a number of venues across town.
Reel Democracy was therefore conceived as a forum for people to discuss, debate, and possibly even organize around the issues raised by the films. For instance, local environmentalists helped arrange a screening of Pick Axe: A Citizen Action to Save Old Growth Forest. This film documents a direct action campaign in the Oregon old growth forest. Here in South Central Indiana, organizations such as Indiana Forest Alliance are likewise engaged in campaigns to protect the Hoosier National Forest and other old-growth sites across the state.
Partnering with local activists groups, Reel Democracy encourages community residents to educate themselves on important issues and to get involved!
Like other community-oriented media initiatives, then, Reel Democracy's aims are at once modest and vitally important for a democratic society. As the group's mission statement puts it: "Our hope is that these films will contribute to a more informed electorate."
Tellingly, Reel Democracy carries on, despite the (momentarily) crushing defeat of the November election. For instance, Reel Democracy recently screened Poetry in Wartime a feature-length documentary that deftly captures the essence of warfare in stark and eloquent words and images. And, in cooperation with the Bloomington Peace Action Coalition, Reel Democracy premiered The Truth About the 21st Century American Empire — an internationally acclaimed seven-part film series.
Kevin Howley is assistant professor at DePauw University. This is the third in a series he is writing on local, independent media in Bloomington.